Updated: Feb 17, 2021
When you’re properly-geared to enjoy your winter training sessions, you can appreciate a variety of benefits that are unique to the season. The trails your dog is sniffing are no longer a mystery when you can see the squirrel tracks clearly in fresh snow. Environmental noise is dampened a bit, making your walk more peaceful for sound sensitive pups. There is less pedestrian traffic for our reactive dogs to contend with.
Finding the motivation to train in the cold and snow isn't always easy, though. It’s hard enough to make yourself go outside when the temperature is below freezing and snow is blasting you in the face. The added challenge of gripping tiny dog treats in frozen, saliva coated fingers or navigating surprise ice patches when your dog is pulling on leash can make training in those conditions seem just about impossible - but there is hope! Here are some simple ways to keep your dog’s training routine on track during the winter months.
Protect your hands.
Just because you need to handle treats doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your fingertips. Stay warm, maintain your dexterity and your grip by layering nitrile gloves or flexible work gloves over a pair of thin knit gloves. Black nitrile gloves are sturdier (and look a bit classier) than the typical bright blue.
Keep your balance.
Crampons (think snow chains for your shoes!) can prevent slips or falls if your dog suddenly moves in a different direction in slippery conditions. These come in rubber and metal varieties which fit over your existing shoes or boots.
Sometimes, it’s easier to substitute your individual treats for something you can dispense easily when you’re all bundled up. Fill silicone travel bottles with a soft food as an efficient and affordable option - peanut butter or watered down Braunschweiger work beautifully. Baby food squeeze pouches can also be a perfect (and healthy!) way to deliver a lick or two at a time. You may also consider using a wet dog food, packaged in tear-top pouches, to feed a healthy meal during your outdoor training session. Tear off just one corner to more easily control the amount you deliver for each behavior.
Keep your dog warm, too.
Some breeds with thick undercoats, like Huskies, Akitas, and American Eskimos, thrive in harsh winter conditions and are more likely to drag you out the door for a training session when it’s 30 degrees than when it’s 80 degrees. For those of you with short or thin coated dogs, however, they may need a protective layer to keep them warm and dry. Blanket style coats are perfect for dogs who may be uncomfortable with leg and paw handling, or dogs whose proportions make it difficult to find properly fitting apparel. My all-time favorite coat for durability, warmth, fit and style is the Hurtta Summit Parka. With 13 individual size options, there’s a Hurtta for every dog.
Don’t forget their paws.
There are so many kinds of boots available to protect your dog’s paws from ice, road salt, and all of the other nasty things that congregate in roadside slush, but it’s not always easy to get those boots on (or keep them on). If your dog struggles with boots, try paw wax. You can purchase pre-made wax or make your own!
It's okay to ask for help!
If you're struggling to meet your dog's training needs during these colder months, you are not alone. A consultation with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer is a great way to develop a training plan that meets your dog's needs while also limiting exposure to the elements. With video call training, you won't even need to leave your house! Having a cohesive plan can make all of the difference in surviving the winter.
Author: Rachel Marderosian, CPDT-KA